Welcome to Flashback Friday: Tales From The Log, a final-season tribute to Shea Stadium as viewed primarily through the prism of what I have seen there for myself, namely 378 regular-season and 13 postseason games to date. The Log records the numbers. The Tales tell the stories.
7/22/04 Th Montreal 12-11 Gl@v!ne 3 152-122 L 4-1
It’s always nice to have something to look forward to at the game besides the game. They might be handing out an ill-fitting t-shirt. There might be a salute to your favorite ethnic group. Or you could get a glimpse of the future.
The future was the value-added attraction four years ago this week. The future, in conjunction with discounted tickets courtesy of an LIRR promotion, was reason enough to roust me out of my home office on a Thursday morning for a train to Shea. The future was pulling into the present.
It was David Wright’s second Major League game.
The first game was the night before. His recall had become a cause célèbre on WFAN the way promising minor leaguers will for supporters of struggling Major League teams. Technically, the Mets weren’t struggling all that badly. They hovered in a four-team race for first into that third week of July. They, the Phillies, the Marlins and the Braves were bunched together in a scrum that was only three games deep. The East in 2004 could have belonged to anybody.
It could belong to us if they would only call up David Wright already. Few had seen him play, but everybody knew he was the one, the one who had to get up here and rescue us before we fell inevitably on our faces. He had 8 homers in 31 games at Norfolk after slugging 10 in 60 games at Binghamton. Eighteen in just over a half-season of minor league ball — and he was hitting a combined .341 in those two stops. David Wright, 21 years old, was coming, no doubt about it. ETA: 2005. What was the rush? We had Ty Wigginton.
Ty Wigginton, 26, might have enjoyed being considered part of a youth movement himself. Wiggy had been holding down third competently (or at least doggedly) since the season before. Wiggy could hit with a little power: 11 HR, 71 RBI in ’03, 12 and 42 nearly two-thirds of the way through ’04. Wiggy hustled. Wiggy wasn’t the reason the Mets hadn’t leapfrogged the competition in their division that was sitting for the taking. Wiggy’s problem was he played the same position as David Wright.
Move over Wiggy. David is arriving.
Jason called me late the afternoon the word went out that David was flying into LaGuardia: wanna go form a welcoming committee? Couldn’t that night, but the next day, there were those LIRR tickets, so I’d have to settle for the second Major League game in the career of our savior of the hour. David, it turned out, was applauded aplenty on Night One, but went 0-for-4 in a Mets win. He’d be back out there at third for Art Howe the next afternoon for sure.
And there he was. Golden boy. The future. The star attraction right off the bat, batting seventh. The last star attraction future golden boy to be called up by the Mets was also in the lineup: Jose Reyes, leading off. Reyes’ year-old glitter had been tarnished a bit by the front office’s strategy to shift him from short, where he was spectacular, to second, where he was out of position. Also, Jose had been through the hamstring wars several times. It was good to see Jose in there that Thursday even if it was at second, even if it was just a matter of time before the hamstring figured to get the best of him and strain our dreams.
The rest of the lineup? Maybe David and Jose still send them Christmas cards. Kaz Matsui had usurped shortstop. Wiggy was golden parachuted to first. Cliff Floyd took time out from his own string of injuries to spend the day in left. The recently sizzling Richard Hidalgo was around in right. Mike Cameron, good guy, was in center. The anvil-ankled, goggle-eyed Jason Phillips caught and former Cy Young winner T#m Gl@v!ne prepared for another day of wondering what he was doing on the Mets. Individually, those were some good players who had some good seasons in various places around the world, one or two of them who had or would make marks as Mets. Mostly, however, it was Jose Reyes the phenom from 2003 struggling to stay healthy and David the great Wright hope of 2004 promising us a little something for down the road.
There’s no point in delving into the game much. It was one of those affairs that made you feel almost sorry for Gl@v!ne, one of those days where he pitched about as well as he could at 38 years old, leaving it tied 1-1 and then watching one of the crusty relievers who habitually inhabited the bullpen past the point of usefulness — John Franco in this case — make it all for naught. Franco gave up a two-run homer to Tony Batista, he of the recognizable Danbury Mint figurine stance and the messy TEAM column on the back of his baseball card. Batista was always changing teams. Franco was always giving up big hits (perceptionwise, anyhows). The Mets would go on and lose and not contend much further in ’04.
Oh, the quotes…
Gl@v!ne: “You can’t let it creep into your head and let it dictate what you do.”
Howe: “He’s pitching his heart out for us, and we’re giving him nothing.”
Franco: “If I get two outs, I have to put that third out away. This is the worst slump I’ve been in in twenty years.”
But all that’s a detour from the main event. The main event was David Wright’s second big league game and first big league hit, a one-out double down the left field line off Zach Day in the bottom of the fifth. When David landed on second, we knew what to do. We sprung to our feet and clapped heartily. We watched to make sure the ball was tossed to third base coach Matt Galante so he could send it into the dugout. We clapped some more. This was Met history we were watching take shape at its very beginning. It beat watching third base Matt Galante direct Richard Hidalgo into a rundown of doom.
Galante: “I tried to hold him, but it was too late.”
Wright fulfilled the first step of the destiny we mapped out for him in only his career sixth at-bat. He proceeded to burnish his legend from there by scoring his first career run, the Mets’ only run of the day. With David on second, Expo manager Frank Robinson, the killjoy, ordered Phillips walked to get to Gl@v!ne. But Day walked Gl@v!ne unintentionally, bringing up Reyes with the bases loaded. Reyes grounded to short, allowing David to cross the plate on a fielder’s choice. (On what planet, even taking hamstrings into consideration, does a grounder to short cut down Reyes at first but not Gl@v!ne at second or, more likely, the lead-footed Phillips at third?)
After the blessed event of David Wright’s first hit and David Wright’s first run — it was like delivering twins! — the Mets posted the names they’re paid to post on the big scoreboard in right center. Those names flash by too quickly to be absorbed, and why would you pay much attention anyway unless you knew yours was coming? But for some reason I caught one that seemed so appropriate to the occasion of David Wright’s first hit and first run:
THE METS WELCOME
Jimmy Diamond? Too good a name to be true at a baseball game. If George M. Cohan was penning a musical about Our National Pastime, wouldn’t his hero have been Little Jimmy Diamond? Wouldn’t he be played in a saccharine Seventies variety hour skit by Little Jimmy Osmond?
Jimmy Diamond? With his aw shucks, just happy to be here, 21-year-old blank slate and sweet swing, wasn’t David Wright exactly the ingénue on whom were pinning so much of our hearts? For me for the rest of the summer, David Wright was Jimmy Diamond, as in the Mets welcome him, invest their hopes in him and position him to be all that. After a while, Jimmy Diamond, to my mind, morphed into Diamond Dave. David Wright was, as far as anyone could tell, no David Lee Roth in terms of personality, but when our frisky front man connected, the ball might as well jump (jump!) off his bat.
Diamond Dave was a jewel over the final two horrible months of 2004. While the Mets were trading Scott Kazmir, et al, David Wright was establishing himself as that rare breed of Met prospect not prone to disappoint. He’d move up to third in the order and hit 14 home runs to go with the 18 he collected at his Eastern and International league stops. That added up to 32 across his third full professional baseball season. That was more than Ty Wigginton was ever going to hit in a calendar year wherever he wound up (Pittsburgh, as it happened; Wiggy had no more future at first for the Mets than he did at third). David came up too late to get any Rookie of the Year votes — Kaz received one point in the balloting — but he was penciled in for bigger and better things come his sophomore, junior, senior and postgrad years.
David Wright is such a Shea Stadium staple, so totally the face of this franchise — the proliferation of WRIGHT 5 jerseys reminds me of what Wayne Campbell said about copies of Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours, that one must have been issued to every kid in the suburbs — that it’s hard to remember there was a time chronologically not so very long ago that he’d proven nothing but promised everything. It doesn’t seem possible that he could have been managed by Art Howe, lined up alongside Kaz Matsui, thrown to Ty Wigginton, fielded behind John Franco, shaken hands with Richard Hidalgo. He seems of this era and whichever era commences next. He and Reyes are all who remain from that Thursday afternoon against Montreal. Knowing how the Mets operate, it’s genuinely surprising that Wigginton and Hidalgo aren’t the ones who got kept.
Two base hits from now, David Wright passes Felix Millan for 14th place in Met safety annals. He has 742 base hits as of this writing; 740 since that first afternoon when we began to see that there are occasionally Met prospects whose hype-to-performance ratio is pretty much a 1:1 proposition. Nine more home runs will put him in fifth place among all Met power hitters; twenty-four more ribbies will make him seventh in that category. By early 2010 at the latest, he should own the club doubles record. He is 25 years old and under contract to the Mets through 2012, with an option for 2013 when, if he were to have it picked up, he would still be owed $3 million less than what Johan Santana is making this year. He will be 30 that season.
We stood and applauded David Wright’s first big league hit four years ago this week. We’ve stood and applauded David Wright continually since then. David Wright has received a four-year ovation that shows no signs of subsiding. I like the Home Run Apple just fine, but when you ask me which Shea Stadium landmark needs to be replanted permanently at Citi Field, I know which one I’m picking.